Thursday, January 5, 2012

Moving on Up

The new owner of our first house
We were well underway to having our new dream house, but one aspect of this adventure about which I have neglected writing is the selling of our old house and the move to a rental property.  We knew early on that we would need a significant amount of money coming out of pocket, and much of this was to come from the equity in our first home.  Our biggest fear was putting the house on the market and watching it sit there for months on end without a buyer.  Since we had purchased it as a “for sale by owner” home, we decided we could try selling it in the same manner.  There was a service available at the time that would aid homeowners like us who were trying to sell on their own.  For a modest fee, would suggest prices based on local real estate assessments and recent sales, would create the promotional flyers, provide a yard sign and had an on-line listing program.  We contacted them and agreed they would activate our account that Saturday; however, on the Wednesday prior we received an unexpected email notifying us that our account had already been activated!  This news caught us totally off guard since we had not yet finished preparing the house for viewing.  Thursday was my day off, so I spent the day working on the yard - mowing, edging and cleaning up flower beds.  My wife cleaned the inside of the house and started packing and hiding much of the clutter that accompanies living with two small children.  Knowing we were now listed on the internet as being for sale, I thought we had better put out the sign so anyone driving by would recognize the house.  I carried the sign down to the curb and stepped on the frame to push it into the ground.  As I lifted my foot and looked up, a car with a young woman pulled up.  She had gotten an email from the listing service that our house was for sale and that it matched her search criteria.  Although we had not expected anyone so soon, we gave her a tour of the house, and she later returned with her father for a second look.  To make a long story short, she bought the house.  So in the end, the sign was in place for less than 60 seconds before a buyer was found.  Talk about good fortune.  She needed to occupy the house before our new home was completed, so the idea of renting it from her was broached.  However, once again fortune smiled down upon us.  The neighbor on the adjacent street whose backyard met ours at the far corner of our property (and onto which one of our trees had fallen in one of my previous posts) was looking for someone to rent his home.  Although the interior remained decorated just as it was in the 70’s when Larry’s wife lost her battle with cancer, it still was an attractive little house that was very close and, more importantly to me, had a wonderful in-ground pool.  For 13 years I had slaved away in the heat doing yard work in my backyard, only to hear laughter and splashing coming from the other side of the privet hedge that separated us.  How I longed to take a dip in that pool, but the invitation never came.  Finally, my chance had arrived.  We talked with Larry and he agreed to rent it to us on a limited lease until our house was finished. 
Our temporary housing
At last I could play in the pool

The move to the rental was probably even easier than the move from the double to our first house.  We had already put many large items in storage in preparation of showing our house to potential buyers.  Over a period of several evenings, we carted various boxes around the corner and deposited them in the garage.  On the day of the actual move, we got family members to join us and by early in the day the move was complete.  It had been quick and simple, and we still had most of the day to work.  My wife returned to our old house and gave it a thorough cleaning while I swept out the garage.  I mowed our old lawn one final time then mowed the rental’s lawn not once but twice because it had become overgrown and unruly.  I even had time to edge the walks in front of the rental because sod had been allowed to overgrow the sidewalk.  Once the outside chores were complete, my wife and I unpacked everything, hung pictures on the walls and began preparing to host a family pool party to celebrate Mother’s Day the very next day.  We were young and energetic, and it really did not seem like a lot of work, which is why our move from this house to our new home caught us totally off guard.  But more on that in a moment.

The family room in progress
As the house was nearing completion, we turned our thoughts to its furnishings.  We had spent the prior seven months shopping for the new family and living room furniture, dining room furniture and bedroom suite that was to fill our new home.  We had picked out the pieces we wanted, but we were still not sure how to arrange them in our home.  One evening before carpeting was in, we picked up some fast food and had dinner while sitting on the floor of our unfinished house.  I had brought along newspaper mock-ups of our family room furniture and we spent the evening moving them around the room checking traffic flow as well as the view outdoors and the view of the television that would soon go into the built-in cabinets next to the fireplace.  It was our first taste of how living there might feel, and it was pure heaven.
The sidewalks go in
Finally, December arrived and the final touches were added to the house.  Unfortunately, this period also marked a sad and tragic chapter of the build.  One Saturday morning I stopped by the house on my way to work to find the painters on site especially early, trying to finish the last of the rooms.  I told them how glad I was we were nearing the finish, then I thanked them and bid them adieu thinking it might be our last meeting.   On my way to the clinic I noticed a gathering of police cars at the local motel, but I could not tell what had happened.  It wasn’t until that evening that I learned a mentally unstable man had murdered the young female clerk working the evening shift.  That young clerk was the daughter of the painter I had just greeted that morning.  His life had already been thrown into turmoil just two days prior (and only a few weeks before Christmas) when his wife received notice that she had been layed off from her job at a local steel mill.  How quickly a life can turn upside down.  Somehow worrying about moving into our home seemed much less important.
Doors and trim being stained
 However, progress marched on and on Friday, December 15th, 2000 the house became ours.  Only two days before, an early winter storm had dumped nearly eight inches of snow, meaning the 14th was spent shoveling the drive and walks while Sara packed up the rental home.  On the evening of the 14th, we went to our son’s Christmas program at school then stopped by the house to install our new television.  These were the days of the cathode ray tube, so our 36 inch television probably weighed 150 pounds or more.  Sara has never had any arm strength, so it was a miracle we could even lift the set, but as we struggled to hoist it up onto the cabinet and move it into place, it wouldn’t fit!  We had carefully measured the opening and compared our figures with all the models at the appliance store, but here we were unable to push it into place.  I realized the problem was some molding on the front of the cabinet that limited the size of the opening, so by turning the set and gently twisting it from side to side we were finally able to slide it into the hole.  But the process had not been without casualties.  Our beautiful new oak woodwork bore several scratches from the bottom of the television.  We had not even taken possession of the house, and already we had damaged it.  I have discovered that this is the great disadvantage of building a brand new home – you are acutely aware of every scratch and ding you inflict on the pristine structure.  The television was ready for the cable installation the next day, but to the dismay of our two bored children, it did not happen.  The cable company, which had already been to our home once before, called early on the 15th to get directions to our house.  The problem with that plan was that our phones had yet to be connected, and the cable company only heard a phone ringing without anyone answering.  Thinking we were not home, they cancelled our installation. When we finally borrowed a phone to call them and learned what had happened, they explained they could not send a technician out for a week.  My two poor, bored children had to live with a house in shambles, parents too busy to even say boo to them and the one grainy television station that we were able to receive without cable or antennas.  For them it was a long, long week. 
The first thing to go into our house was this portrait
Early on the 15th we sent the kids off to school then headed to town to sign the paperwork.  As soon as we signed and the house was legally ours, we headed there to place our favorite picture of the kids above the fireplace and claim the house as our own.  I guess it was the human equivalent of “marking our territory.”  Sara had brought some kitchen supplies over so we would have materials to feed our helpers the next day, and Bob along with his assistant showed up to teach us about our house.  It was a two hour verbal owner’s manual including care of the furnace and hot water heater, turning off the gas or water in an emergency, chlorinating the well and the care and cleaning of the various surfaces and appliances.  We finally said goodbye to Bob, and I returned to the rental to await the piano movers while Sara continued arranging her new kitchen.  There was so much to do and I was very anxious to start taking some things over to the new house, but I was trapped at the rental awaiting the ever increasingly late movers.  When finally they arrived and had safely transported the piano to its new home in our living room, my brother and I were free to go and rent a U-Haul truck.  We were not actually moving until the following day, but we still needed the truck to pick up our new furniture that was awaiting us at the buying club to which we belonged.  Just as luck would have it, the person who needed to sign off on the rental had just left the office, so again I was stuck waiting.  Finally, after what felt like an eternity, he returned, we signed the contract, picked up the truck and headed off to retrieve our furniture before closing.
The small box truck was pretty well loaded down with new furniture as we made the long drive back to Brownsburg.  The first thing off the truck was the surprisingly heavy box springs and mattress for the king size bed.  Carrying these heavy and awkward items was no small task, and it took a lot of maneuvering, starting and stopping (and quite a few laughs at our ineptitude) to get them up the stairs and into our bedroom.  The bed frame, dining room chairs and table (the cabinetry had not yet arrived from China) were much easier. Then came a large, heavy dresser for our bedroom, and hauling it up the stairs seemed to zap the last ounce of strength from both my brother and me. This meant the last thing waiting to come off the truck was an even larger entertainment armoire that was also to go up to our second floor bedroom.  By this point my brother’s shoulder, injured in a serious car accident a few years earlier, was really acting up and my muscles were feeling like jello.  On top of that, the dropping temperature caused the drizzle which had been falling most of the afternoon to freeze on the ramp of the truck.  We tried walking the armoire off the truck, but it was just too icy.  Finally, we borrowed a dolly from the next door neighbor and tried strapping in onto that.  I manned the dolly with my wife and brother forming a line behind me to act as human brakes, and together we managed to ease (actually, it was more of a controlled slide) the large cabinet down the icy ramp and into the house.  However, try as we may, we just could not lift it to get it up the stairs.  It would have to remain in the living room until reinforcements (in the form of delivery men bringing the remaining furniture we had purchased at a different store) showed up the next day and carried it up for us with the motivation of a modest tip.
Although we were tempted to camp out at the new house that night, our tearful daughter who was not feeling well convinced us go back to our real beds at the rental.  Bright and early the next day, various family members started filing in to help us with the big move.  A funny thing happened in those seven months we had lived at the rental, and to this day I cannot explain it.  It appears our belongings mated and multiplied, because what had been an easy, quick, stress free move from our first home to the rental was transformed into an exhausting, full day move that would leave the entire family sore and tired.  As far as I can recall, we had not purchased anything new other than furniture, which had already been delivered to the new home, and we had even put many of our things in storage.  My wife had basically moved the kitchen already, as well as most of her clothes.  I think in retrospect, we had probably moved far more in small loads from our first house to the rental over a week’s time then we had realized.  One thing I do remember having moved gradually the first time was the books in my library.  Now they were boxed and ready to go in one grand move.  My poor sister got the unfortunate job of carrying box after box of heavy books down the stairs at the rental, up the ramp to the truck then once at the new house, up the tall set of stairs to my new library.  It is ten years later, and I’m still not sure she has recovered fully.  The temps had risen that day and a mist hung in the air making it rather muggy despite the snow on the ground.  Soon we were all drenched with sweat, and I caught my sister eating snow while my brother grabbed large handfuls and smashed them onto his head for relief.  Sara’s mom fed us, and my mom basically observed, but all other able hands were like a swarm of ants always in motion.  It was not until dusk was approaching that the last items were unloaded and deposited in the garage to be gradually moved into the house.  We thanked our family and sent them limping and moaning on their way.  My wife and I continued to unpack until nearly 11:00 that night, then sore and tired, we each took a turn in the new whirlpool tub in an attempt to relieve our wearied muscles.
Despite a busy week, we made sure to decorate for Christmas
Our only real Christmas tree
Life was not to get any easier for a full week.  We needed to get all of our boxes unpacked and their contents placed in their new locations.  There were pictures to hang on the walls.  My books awaited unpacking and the library needed organizing.  There was the dining room, mud room and laundry room which we wallpapered.   We had many things in storage which also had to be retrieved (five van loads) and sorted.  On top of this, it was the week before Christmas and there were presents to buy and wrap, and general decorations to hang.  Yes, we were just moving into a new home and life was hectic, but by golly we were going to make it look and feel like Christmas.  My wife hung greenery and bows along the staircase and above the fireplace and I hung greenery and lights on the porch.  We still needed a Christmas tree, and in celebration of our new space and because our artificial tree would look so small with the new, high ceilings, we decided on a live tree.  A new problem presented itself, however.  Snow had given way to a serious cold snap with wind-chills dangerously low.  (The month we moved is the third coldest and snowiest December on record.)  I called a couple of Christmas tree farms, but the first place was sold out and the second was closed due to the weather.  I knew of one other tree farm so we piled into the car and headed off to Pittsboro, an adjacent town.  We arrived only to find a sign saying that due to the extreme cold, they too were closed.   Arriving back in Brownsburg, we found a gardening store with pre-cut trees that was braving the cold.  We picked out a beautiful balsam fir, loaded it onto our van and took it home to thaw out in our garage.  The tree was encased in show and ice, so I set a small space heater nearby and let it run all day.  However, the air was so cold that even in the garage and with a space heater, I could not warm the area enough to thaw the ice.  In the end, I had to resort to taking my wife’s hair dryer to slowly defrost the tree so we could finally bring it in and decorate it.  It remains the only live tree we’ve ever had in the house, and it was a beautiful way to start our holiday celebrations in the new home.  Late in the day on Christmas Eve, we finally had our first chance in over a week to actually sit and relax for a brief period.  When the 22 members of my family arrived to celebrate Christmas the next day, the house looked well settled, as if we had lived there for months rather than days.  We had ticked off all the odd jobs on our list of chores and were ready to enjoy our home.   We relished in giving tour after tour of the house, and it never seemed to get old.  We were in love with it, and that love affair has continued for over a decade now.  I did learn one thing, however.  Until I can no longer afford to own this house or I become too feeble to climb its stairs, I will never move until I’m an old man, and then I’m paying someone to do it for me.  I don’t think I could physically survive another week like that one in 2000.

Front yard awaiting lawn
Hydroseeding backyard
  Spring came and the final step of completing the build came to fruition.  We had spent a year dealing with constant mud and no yard, so at last we were greatly relieved to see some landscaping start and the “seeds” of a lawn in place.  It would be a while before grass was actually growing, but just to have it graded and sprayed a green color was enough for me.  Little by little, I would add shrubs and flowers and trees and make the land my own.  And just as I was beginning to enjoy my new backyard, bad luck struck having apparently followed us from our prior home.  One evening in June, I was standing in my family room watching a raging storm outside.  Suddenly, the large beech that dominated the corner of my neighbor’s woods, fractured halfway up and made a slow but thundering crash into our backyard and across my flower bed.  I thought I had left falling trees behind me at our last home, but it seemed I could not avoid them.  More have fallen over the years, but thankfully, they have been nice and fallen into the woods and not across my lawn.

Here we go again.  Yet another downed tree
 It took us several years, but we finally finished the basement we had left undone to afford the house.  We were once again reunited with Nick, our architect who took our ideas and fleshed them out.  The first contractor we talked with turned out to be a bust, so again Bob came to our rescue.  He was in the business of building custom homes and not basements, but with the economy slowing and feeling a lingering obligation to us, he agreed to oversee the project.  Again, our tastes pushed our pocketbook to the limit, but in the end we were blessed with a beautiful home theater, game room, exercise room, full bathroom and storage room.  The built-in book case houses a stained glass window salvaged from our church when it was sold and a new church constructed elsewhere.

Started adding perennial beds

Another view of the flower bed

Just as our old house left us with many wonderful memories of starting a family, this home has blessed us with memories of our children transforming into young adults.  It has been the site of office Christmas parties, school projects and a theater after-party.  It has fed the extended family at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and it is the graveyard of two beloved pets.  My son is now away at college, and his sister will join him in just a couple short years.  Then Sara and I will again be alone in a home for the first time in about 23 years.  It will be a different feeling having this large space to ourselves without the added life and noise of our children, but we must look at it as just the next chapter in the long story of our lives.  I hope to write many more chapters here, and if by chance they have some entertaining moments, I will share them with you here.  But for now, I think I’ll sit back and enjoy the fire and watch the birds cavorting about the feeder on the deck.

The backyard with a year or two under its belt
A rainbow touching down on our driveway.  I think we found our pot of gold.


  1. Beautiful!

  2. Awesome i remember when you lived by me and watched your new house go up. At the time though did not know it was your new home